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“Where there is charity and wisdom, there is neither fear nor ignorance.”
FRANCIS OF ASSISI

It's A Wonderful Life

Erika Kissel

My name is Erika Kissel. I am 25 years old. I want to tell you a little about my life. I live in Naperville with my parents. I have the best family in the world! My Dad and Mom have always supported me. They helped me to work towards my dreams and goals. My sister, Christi and brother-in-law, Jay are also very supportive of me. I am the proud aunt of my nephews Zachary and Andrew. I am also proud to be Zachary’s Godmother!

I was born with serious and life-threatening health issues. I have spent a lot of time in and out of hospitals. But that has not stopped me. Here I am 25 years later!

I have been included, with supports and modifications, in regular education classes throughout my school years. I was a member of my 2001 graduating class at Neuqua Valley High School. I graduated with my class and received a regular high school diploma. I had a wonderful high school experience.

Working in the community has always been very important to me. I have been working since middle school and I have had many job training/work experiences.

I now work 5 days a week for Sodexho Corp. This is the 4th year that I am working there. I take the Pace Para transit Bus to and from work everyday. Two days a week I work at the District Administration Building, assisting with lunch money/checks. The other three days I assist in the food service production dept. in a middle school lunch program.

I love my job and all of the people that I work with. I am “part of the team” at work! I want to continue to learn more on this job. I would love to be a chef!

I also do occasional work for an architect company in Naperville where my friend and “best buddy” Brandy is the marketing director. I assist her with the company mailings that need to go out yearly. I really enjoy going to her office to do this work.

I also do volunteer work at the DuPage Children’s Museum. I go there one day a week after my job. I work in the volunteer office. On Saturdays, I volunteer as a catechist helper for a religion class for other individuals with disabilities.

When I was little, I loved to dress up and act. My parents often called me “Sarah Barnhart.” During my elementary, middle and high school years, I participated in many activities and I was in numerous plays. I have also been a member of community theatre groups. Most recently, I have been in North Central College’s Summer Community Theatre Group. That has been so much fun. I have been in at least 9 plays so far. Some of my favorite ones were “Bye, Bye, Birdie”, “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” and “Music Man.”

I have taken classes at College of DuPage. At College of DuPage, I also took a Theatre Arts class (5 credit hours). The instructor of the class said that she learned so much from me, when I was in her class! We learn from each other!

I am also a “sports fanatic.” When I was younger, I was on the park district’s softball team. In 7th and 8th grade, I was part of the cheerleading squad. I really enjoyed going to all the games to cheer. I now cheer with the Tomahawks Cheerleaders for the hockey team. When my brother-in-law, Jay coached volleyball at Bartlett High School I was a team manager for the girl’s volleyball team. I am involved with Special Olympics sports through WDSRA (Western DuPage Special Rec. Association) I enjoy all of my sports activities!
I have had a chance to present as a self-advocate. I have given several presentations to graduate classes of educators at National Lewis University. The future educators were able to see me as a person first, instead of just my disability. As a member of a panel of self-advocates at the ARC convention, I was able to talk about my life.

I have also been involved with BEST BUDDIES. My friend and best buddy, Brandy and I were featured on calendars, Christmas cards, “L” train posters and billboards on Chicago expressways all promoting the gift of friendship between people with and without disabilities. I have presented with Carl Lewis, the Olympic runner, for the LaSalle Chicago marathon as well as Senator Emil Jones. I am also involved with the Benedictine University Best Buddy group. I have a wonderful friend there named Ugne.

I also have a boyfriend. His name is Tim. We have known each other since elementary school. In high school we went to all the proms, homecomings, and activities together. We now try to have a “date night“ every week. We like to double date with our friends. We all enjoy being together.

I also like to travel. I have traveled in the United States with my family. I have also traveled with my family to Europe. I have grandparents and aunts and uncles there. I have been to Germany, Austria, Italy, Switzerland and France.

My goals are to one day have a home of my own in my community. I would like to find the right roommate. I want to continue to live in my home community near my family and friends. I also want to continue working in my community in this job that I love.

I have the same dreams as everyone else. I will continue to work at making my dreams and goals happen. I just need the support of people such as my family, friends, and my community. It has been a lot of hard work, but I have a great life. I thank my family for their hard work and in believing in me.

As a person with a disability, I want others to respect us as people and respect our dreams for our lives and to make this journey with us.